Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Playoffs a long way off for Hurricanes

Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes. Photo / File / Getty
Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes. Photo / File / Getty

If the Hurricanes look a long way into the distance they might be able to make out the Super Rugby playoffs.

That's because after a 48-14 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria this morning the idea of making the post-season is nearing the fanciful rather than the realistic for the Wellington-based franchise who sit in 11th place in the Super Rugby standings.

It's nearing a point where all of their six remaining games are must-win contests as they're seven points behind the sixth-placed Cheetahs on a congested ladder.

The Hurricanes decided to use a dual pivot approach for the contest with the Bulls today with Beauden Barrett and Tusi Pisi playing at first and second five-eighth respectively.

Despite having the kicking prowess of both players the Hurricanes persisted with keeping the ball in hand but the tactic didn't work as the visitors couldn't punch enough holes through the middle with their carries.

Playing well above sea level at Loftus is tough as it is and the task at hand becomes even tougher when you pass the ball to the other team.

Twice in the first spell the Hurricanes gift-wrapped tries for the Bulls as centre JJ Engelbrecht and flying wing Akona Ndungane each crossed the stripe via intercepts.

Loosehead prop Ben Franks was the first offender as Engelbrecht grabbed the first try of the game in the 19th minute before Pisi sinned late in the half to give Ndungane his 31st Super Rugby five-pointer.

In between those tries blindside flanker Deon Stegmann scored from a dominant rolling maul from a lineout where the Hurricanes had no answers while the boot of Morne Steyn added to the misery of the visitors.

Mark Hammett's side also had to endure the loss of skipper Conrad Smith, who was knocked out cold as he went in to tackle Engelbrecht mid-way through the first spell.

Smith was out before he even hit the deck and had to be removed from the field on a stretcher and luckily TJ Perenara had the presence of mind to quickly put Smith in to the recovery position after he saw the All Black had been knocked out.

News filtered through during the second half that Smith had regained consciousness and was off to hospital for tests and the Hurricanes began the second spell brightly as Perenara finished off a brilliant breakout move to score under the posts.

But soon after the Hurricanes finally found the chalk, the Bulls quickly asserted their dominance on the game as prop Dean Greyling was awarded a try by the TMO without a lot of evidence that the ball was grounded.

The Hurricanes formed some sort of walking wounded during the final half hour as Barrett had his head wrapped up, while reserve halfback Chris Smylie had to play on the wing for a period as fullback Andre Taylor left the field with a nasty head cut.

The lineout was an issue all game for the Hurricanes who were forced to start third-string hooker Ash Dixon due to Motu Matu'u and Dane Coles both being struck down by injuries.

Perenara added another try in the 55th minute as they dreamed of an unlikely comeback but individual errors continued to stunt their progress.

When Jason Eaton was sent to the sin bin in the 69th minute the game was as good as over and the Bulls quickly made hay with their numerical advantage as Lionel Mapoe pushed through a gap to score out wide.

At 41-14 the game was safe but Louis Fouche added the icing when he crashed over from close range with a few minutes left.

Bulls 48 (JJ Engelbrecht, Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane, Dean Greyling, Lionel Mapoe, Louis Fouche tries; Morne Steyn 5 con, 2 pen, Fouche con) Hurricanes 14 (TJ Perenara 2 tries; Beauden Barrett 2 con) HT: 27-0


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